It all began with The Great 1893 Land Run.
They came from everywhere, some from as far away as Europe. They came filled with hope and faith that the future would somehow be better. They were products of a nation still convalescing from the brutal and savage Civil War. They were the men and women who settled this land.
The United States Government made a treaty with the Cherokees in 1838 granting to them an “outlet” to their hunting grounds “as long as the grasses grow and the rivers flow”. Public pressure arose in other parts of the nation from the land hungry white Americans and soon other tribes were being moved in the Cherokee Outlet. The herds of buffalo dwindled and the tribes of Indians increased. The Cherokee made a profitable arrangement for leasing their land to the big ranchers who drove their cattle across virgin prairie. The Cherokee Strip Livestock Association finally rented the whole 6,000,000 acres from the tribe. Cattle replaced buffalo and the era of vast ranches began.
In 1884, public sympathy was aroused when Captain David Payne and his “Boomers” were driven from Indian Territory by federal troops. They had settled near Blackwell at Rock Falls, their home on the Chikaskia River. In Washington, congressional representatives yielded under the pressure, and ranchers and cattle were ordered out of the Cherokee Outlet. The Cherokees were deprived of their lease income and accepted an offer from the United States Government to purchase the land for $8,300,00.00.
On March 3, 1893, Congress enacted the necessary legislation opening the Cherokee Strip to homestead settlement. Three other areas in Indian Territory had been opened by land run and the Cherokee Strip was destined to be the last and greatest of them all.
Finally the day arrived, dry, hot and dusty, September 16, 1893 and the Cherokee Outlet would never again be the same. Virgin land, crisscrossed by rivers and creeks, abundant with wild game, was home to countless hosts of Indians. Discovered by Coronado in 1541, it had seen French fur traders in the 18th Century at Camp Ferdinandino, Northeast of Newkirk.
Tension mounted as men, animals and every form of vehicle jammed hub to hub in the neutral zone. Soldiers on horseback patrolled the area in front of the line and men jockeyed for position. Lined up for miles along the northern and southern borders of the Cherokee Strip, over 100,000 people waited for the signal. The heat was almost unbearable.
The troop commander sat stiffly at attention in his saddle, a trumpeter by his side. All eyes were on the man on horseback, standing a distance into the Strip, who has to fire the signal shot, which was to start the greatest race in history.
Shortly before noon, gray haired James A. Hill of New Jersey was shot and killed when the spirited horse he was on, finally broke and ran. A soldier unable to catch him, shot him through the head minutes before the starting signal. At the sound of the gunshot, the line surged forward South of Arkansas City, Kansas and West of Chilocco at four minutes before twelve o’clock. The crowd stampeded and no attention was paid to the soldiers’ commands to stop. By this time, thousands of people were in the race and there was no such thing as stopping them.